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The Sermon on the Mount, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1659

Essay

The Sermon on the Mount is the central part of the Gospel According to Matthew and the backbone of Christianity. It is both the moral code and the source of inexhaustible comfort and encouragement for all Christians. The Sermon has also been a source of a great number of interpretations and heated arguments between theologist.

The Gospel of Matthew is believed to have been written in the second half of the first century. The author Matthew the Evangelist was originally a tax collector but Jesus summoned him to join the twelve Apostles. It was in connection with Matthew, whose job was perceived to be dishonorable, that Jesus had to defy the accusation of the Scribes and Pharisees by saying that it was the sinners that he came to call and not the righteous. Matthew witnessed both the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ. Matthew fulfilled his mission of the Apostle by recording what he remembered about Christ and his teaching afterwards in the Gospel which he wrote on the land of Palestine or near it. A Hebrew Christian himself, Matthew wrote in Hebrew and later his work was translated into Greek. He preached the Gospel to the end of his life to Hebrews and Gentiles (non-Hebrews).

The book as a whole tells the story of Jesus and his life on earth. He begins with the genealogy of Jesus and describes some details of his childhood which are not found in other sources. He writes about miracles done by Jesus, relates his preaches and parables. He also tells about the followers and opponents of Jesus. Finally, he describes the tragic events of the Holy Week and the crucifixion of Jesus to be followed by his resurrection. The book ends with Jesus ordering his eleven disciples to go and teach about him to all nations.

Generally speaking, the literary genre of the Gospel of Matthew is a biography, but it is different from modern biographies. First of all, not every part of the life of Jesus receives equal attention. The emphasis is on the last years and especially the last days. Secondly, the writer is not objective because he has a religious devotion to his main character and the character himself is not a human being to be judged by another human being but a deity in human body to be inspired by and followed. It should also be said that the language of the Gospel of Matthew is wonderfully beautiful and one of the most poetic places is the Sermon on the Mount. For instance, the Beatitudes are rhythmical and syntactically represent parallel constructions, which makes them very easy for remembering.

It has already been mentioned that the Sermon on the Mount is central to the teaching of Jesus. Consequently every word of it is precious and meaningful. For instance, every Beatitude promises bliss to certain people (the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness etc.), and the naming for the group of people is of utmost importance. ‘The poor in spirit’ is a term which may seem confusing without proper interpretation and is less transparent than other terms in the Beatitudes. ‘The poor in spirit’ are people who sincerely believe that a human is incapable of any good without God’s will. We have therefore no reason to be proud of ourselves since all that is good in us is God.

Still, if I am to choose two words, I would pick the structural ones. The first is the word ‘blessed’ which every Beatitude starts with (Matthew 5:1 – 12). Blessed means touched by the holy, close to God. Jesus names the people who are blessed and says that they should ‘rejoice and be glad’ (Matthew 5;1 – 12). A person who deserves God’s blessing is happier than anyone who enjoys earthly pleasures and this utmost happiness is of spiritual quality. The second word I would choose is ‘law’. In this case law refers to the Mosaic Law – the Ten Commandments dictated by God to Moses according to the Old Testament. Contrary to some expectations, Jesus says that he has come to reinforce rather than abolish the old law (Matthew 5:17 – 19). The Sermon on the Mount can be viewed as an elaboration on the Mosaic Law. Some of its statements like the one about divorce are made more severe, but blessing is promised in consolation to those who fulfill the Law.

The Gospel of Matthew describes the original audience of the Sermon of the Mount as consisting of Jesus’ disciples and a crowd which gathered to listen. The original audience of the Gospel itself was the Hebrews and Gentiles who Matthew preached to in the first century. For both audiences the Sermon meant nearly the same. First of all, it meant the long-waited Advent of Messiah because Jesus did not speak about God, he spoke as God. It also meant that humble people were important, they were the salt and light of earth (Matthew 5;13 – 16) and could get into the kingdom of heaven being righteous and faithful irrespective of being poor, suppressed, enslaved or female. The Sermon was and remains a great consolation to the humble and meek and suffering for God.

The most natural comparison of the Sermon on the Mount is that with the Sermon on the Plain related in the Gospel of Luke (6:17 – 49). Some argue that this is the same sermon retold in two ways while others believe that this is another Sermon and the two are so alike because Jesus repeated his teaching more than once. In Luke’s version the blessings are more concise and woes are added. Unlike the Sermon on the Plain, the Sermon on the Mount also contains teaching about the fulfillment of the law, salt and light, anger, divorce, oaths, retaliation, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, possessions, and judgment. However, Luke’s account of ‘love for enemies’ is more detailed and contains the famous rule about offering the other cheek. Both sermons include a metaphor of a tree and its fruits and teaching about riches in heaven.

The most important thing the Sermon on the Mount teaches about God is that it comes from God himself. Jesus did not speak as a prophet but as the one in authority. God came to people to save them and teach about how to live righteously and what their place in the world is. He also showed that he came to fulfill the Law, not to alter or abolish it. Finally, he said how one should correctly worship God, i.e. how to pray and to give alms and to fast. The part of the Sermon which was later applied to church is the teaching about salt and light symbolizing the believers. The community of believers and their teachers, the church, is the backbone of the world, the best part of it. The extensive teaching about what a human should and should not do in relationship with God and people as well as in terms of earning one’s living ends with a metaphor of a house built on the rock for a righteous person and a house built on the sand and smitten in a storm for a person who would not follow God’s Law.

The contemporary theological importance of the Sermon on the Mount is a subject of wide discussions. In fact, the Sermon on the Mount gives regulations for all the main aspects of religious life which are applicable today and states exactly what leads to Heaven and what bars one’s way to it. Jesus clearly demanded that people abide by these rules not only in actions but first in hearts.  We can easily imagine a situation to which the regulations can be applied. For instance, a marriage in which people suffer from psychological discomfort. If they were to follow the Sermon literally, they would not divorce and marry for the second time because this is sinful. Another example can be anger with other people or unwillingness to help them unacceptable for the righteous. The Sermon is full of warnings and examples worded very clearly.

However, people argue about the degree to which the teaching of the Sermon can be followed. For example, some of the ideas about correct praying, giving alms and fasting are at odds with modern practices of Christian churches, while the idea of not giving oaths and not divorcing is incoherent with contemporary legal and cultural practices. Jesus taught us not to “lay up treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19 – 23), which is totally neglected by too many for us striving to earn more and get on top of each other in our careers. The meek and the poor are far too often looked upon as failures rather than the blessed ones. The Sermon is full of warnings and examples all of which are relevant to modern situations, but very few choose to follow them and modern theologians tend to interpret them in a compromising way despite the clear statement that this is the only possible path to Heaven.

I first read the Sermon on the Mount when I was about thirteen and I remember being enchanted by its beauty and its incredible promise. I felt that it was addressed to me personally just like to all people in the world. I confess that what seemed really important to me was not fulfilling the law, but the sense of God’s love wonderfully conveyed by the Sermon. I feel that when I feel weak and humble, God loves me and is sorry for me, and when I do something wrong and is proud of myself, God just waits patiently for me to understand. The Sermon on the Mount is the statement of the great strength of the weak and merciful voiced to the world which tends to believe only in the strength of the strongest who often choose to be cruel.

Works cited

The Gospel of Matthew. A commentary & meditation for daily reflection and study. 27 June 2010. http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/matthew.htm

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